PICTURED: Moorea Masa brings her band The Mood to Bank of America Performing Arts Center on May 15, 2022. Photo submitted

by Mike Nelson

Like many musician-performers, Moorea Masa was deeply affected more than two years ago by the impact of COVID-19. Planned tour dates and festival appearances were postponed or canceled, the release of her new record was delayed and life as she knew it was essentially halted.

O.K., not halted — re-directed.

“I had an interesting journey,” smiles the native Oregonian singer-composer-guitarist who will appear May 15 at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks. “Touring was my main source of income, and when that went away it was time to adjust. And at the beginning of COVID, unlike a lot of artists, I wasn’t feeling creative; it was more, ‘How are the people around me doing? Are we safe?’ I have a hard time creating from stress; I do it better when I’m more relaxed and free.”

But it wasn’t just about the music, either. “The revolution happened and I thought, ‘I can’t release music right now, I have to be involved in the community.’”

A young woman of mixed-race heritage, Masa joined protests supporting Black Lives Matter, helped raise local awareness of mental health issues, and became a voice for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) community, seeking to educate the non-BIPOC community on the differences not just in skin tones but in life experiences faced by people like herself.

“It’s about building bridges and uplifting others,” she says.

Not that her artistic side shut down entirely. With a group of friends in her hometown of Portland (“My pod,” she laughs), she created art to go with music videos that she released over the past year.

“That became my outlet, creating art around the record,” she says. “And it was wonderful to combine forces with some really creative women. Now, little by little, tours are picking up, and I’m making a new record now.”

That music — a unique and engaging blend of “stripped-down” R&B, soul, jazz and folk — will be heard when Masa and her band The Mood perform on Sunday. As one who was singing “as soon as I could talk,” Masa enjoys being able to combine a variety of influences in her music.

“It’s not like I’m going for a particular genre when I create,” explains Masa. “It comes out as it comes out. I may like a certain groove, or I may want to say something in particular. And I have strong influences, too; lately I’ve been very influenced by British singer Cleo Sol.”

That creativity has been nourished by Masa’s relocation to Leimert Park on the west side of Los Angeles — “a great neighborhood that really feels like a community” — with her partner and fellow musician Steve Watkins. “Swatkins” is among those who participate in her recently released album, Heart in the Wild: Side A.

The album — with songs including “Lion,” “Butterfly” and “Until Then” — encompasses intimate and emotional themes that explore Masa’s relationship with her estranged mother, her desire to protect women and other marginalized people, and her belief in loving someone no matter if they’re able to truly love you back.

“There are so many different things I love about music,” she says. “It is a universal language, a way to connect with people of different backgrounds all over the world and bring them together. Yes, music is a creative outlet, but it’s also a way to process and express emotions and feelings when you don’t know how to do it any other way. And through that, maybe I can help others who may be feeling some of the same things.”

Does she hope these themes will resonate with those who hear her on May 15?

“I hope those who come to the concert will take whatever they need from it,” she says, smiling. “I don’t want to tell them how to feel; I just want to provide an escape, some joy, a good time, and maybe even a safe space for anyone who wants to come and be there. A healing, safe space.”

Moorea Masa and The Mood perform on Sunday, May 15, at 7 p.m. at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. Tickets: $50 and $30. To purchase or for more information, call 805-449-2787 or visit bapacthousandoaks.com.